The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is the second TV series released in the Marvel universe, following Wandavision, which premiered earlier this year. The TV series are the second stage of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, all taking place after the events of Avengers: Endgame. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has big shoes to fill after the extremely positive reception of Wandavision. After the first episode, it certainly seems primed to meet or even pass the high bar.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier features Sam and Bucky Barnes as the two featured characters. Sam is attempting to deal with the legacy Captain America left behind when he chose to grow old with the love of his life instead of returning to the present as a superhero, giving his famed shield to Sam in the process. Bucky, meanwhile, is attempting to cope with his life as the Winter Solider and the sins he committed while acting on behalf of Hydra.
That's the basis. After this, spoilers follow. So beware. You have been warned.
The most fascinating part about this show and the shows that will follow is how the citizens of Earth are dealing with a post-Blip world, shorthand for when half of the world's population suddenly popped back into existence after five years following the death of Thanos. In this particular series, the most impactful is the formation of an extremist organization who believed the world was better off when half of its population was gone. It forced humanity to come together and ignore the differences that separate us. They will return the world to that state by any means necessary. Sounds about right. It also sets the stage for Sam's personal problems, attempting to secure a loan despite having no proof of income for the previous five years because... he was disintegrated into dust along with half of the universe.
On Bucky's side, he finally has to face the music for killing hundreds of people as the world's most lethal assassin. As he aptly pointed out to his therapist, he hasn't had a break since he was captured by Hydra during World War II. He was turned into an assassin, Captain America forced him to remember who he was, he chilled in Wakanda for a bit after the events of Captain America: Civil War, then battled aliens before getting Snapped and returning for the final battle against Thanos' army. No real time to process the fact that he was conditioned to kill whoever Hydra had their sights on before getting put back into a cryogenic chamber and having his memory erased over and over again for, oh, 70 years or so.
What makes The Falcon and the Winter Soldier so interesting off the bat that it isn't the buddy-cop superhero series the trailers made it out to be. Yet. Bucky and Sam already have that synergy with their amusing back-and-forths featured in Civil War. But the pilot episode was... kind of dark! Bucky is friends with an old man who was the father of a civilian he executed while working as the Winter Soldier. He suffers nightmares and is attempting to work through his issues with a military therapist. Sam doesn't feel he's worthy of Captain America's shield and gave it to a museum instead of using it, an internal battle paralleled with his attempts to help his sister restart her fishing business from the ground-up after the Blip, where his status as an Avenger matters much less than he thought.
It isn't your average cheery superhero show. We probably should have expected that after Wandavision, which featured a similarly gritty and even at points frightening tone. The plot points set up are fascinating and the character development will be the driving force behind the show as opposed to the Super Heroes Team Up To Battle Evil In Its Purest Form trope. It'll be working between the lines, which it should. Breaking from the status quo and keeping people interested is the point of the series stage of the MCU, after all.
We did get a solid dose of awesome action as the opener and got to see what The Falcon can really do. His wings are far more versatile than previously shown, able to form a bullet shield, and he has freaking missiles on his little drone thing. The aerobattles are a rare occurrence in a Marvel universe where only a few characters fly with regularity and they really nailed the opening action scene with Sam fighting bad guys in wing suits.
It was as good a pilot fans could hope for. It would have been disappointing but relatively expected if the studio skimmed over the mental impact of Bucky's action or just had Sam resume his life as a solider trying to stop the other side with no strings attached. But they're exploring the depth of these characters as the foundation of the show. That's a much more satisfying angle for those who are intimately familiar with the inner workings of the MCU and, as their personal progress ties into the greater plot, will make it appealing for more casual viewers.
Wandavision was an incredible start to the series stage of the MCU, an objectively good show for non-Marvel people and an amazing show for diehard fans. It seems The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is primed to provide a follow-up worthy of the attention.